‘Forward-looking and practical’: statement on the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh

Fellowship news 6 Comments

We are deeply saddened to hear about the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, who served as our President between 1952 and 2011. His deep commitment to public service and conservation represents the very best of the RSA’s values.

As our in-house historian, Anton Howes, has detailed in his history of the RSA, Prince Philip once stated that the RSA, at its best, was ‘forward-looking and practical’.
We believe this statement exemplifies his own 59-year contribution to our organisation and wider society as President. He would refer to the RSA as ‘my RSA’, underlining a deep commitment to the Society and its endeavours.

His achievements include:

  • Convening conservationists at the Society as he supported the development in the 1950s and 1960s of the Wildfowl Trust and World Wildlife Fund.
  • Through the RSA, he supported the growing conservation movement, instigating a series of conservation conferences at the Society. This work was a critical catalyst for the development of the environmental and conservation movement in the UK and beyond.
  • Under his stewardship and direction, the RSA hosted conferences on industrial chemicals and cancer, fertility of the soil, world population, fishing, farming, forestry, water conservation, renewable energy, acid rain, and the role of industry in caring for the environment. These were all ahead of their time and engaged industry, Government, academia and campaigners to look for practical steps forward.
  • Prince Philip personally presided over an RSA committee for the environment convened in 1971. The committee included members such as Max Nicholson (co-founder of the WWF) and David Attenborough.
  • He suggested the establishment of Future Policy of the Society Committee that widened the RSA’s reach into the UK’s regions and civil society.
  • Later on, he asked the RSA to devote attention to design in support of the elderly.

Our thoughts are with our patron, HM The Queen, our President, the Princess Royal, and the wider Royal Family at this time. We are indebted to the energy Prince Philip devoted to the RSA, measurably improving its ability to look forward and help improve wider society in the process. We are eternally grateful.  

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the death of HRH Prince Philip, the RSA’s President from 1952 -2011. The Duke of Edinburgh met many RSA Fellows in his time as President. If you are one of them and would like to share a memory, please leave a comment below. We are also gratefully accepting donations in memory of His Royal Highness, which will support our continued work.

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  • Back in September 2000, the late, great Elisabeth Mann Borgese, my friend, philosopher and guide – ‘my mother’ – faxed me a one liner – “Sunil, how about coming with me to Buckingham Palace on 10 October 2000, as an early birthday (mine’s is the 12 October) gift? Much love, As ever, Elisabeth”. And I said, yes, please! EMB, as we called her, had an invitation to meet HRH the Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh for ‘Tea’ at 4:00pm that day. We were told to submit our identification details, etc. and by early October we had the Rules of Etiquette from the Palace. A fairly long and exhaustive list of do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, and so on.

    On the day, EMB’s small entourage met at the Athenaeum for a light lunch. We were driven to the Palace at 3pm and after the initial identity and security checks, we were ushered into the Chinese Drawing Room in the East Wing of the Buckingham Palace. This is on the first floor of the Palace to your far right as you stand facing it. 

     We were met by the Duke’s Equerry a very smart, beautiful woman who was a Squadron Leader with the Red Arrows. She ran through the rules of etiquettes again. Speak when you are spoken to. Offer your hand only if/when he offers his hand. Don’t hold his hand but don’t try to extricate your hand if he is holding your hand, etc, etc. We were then offered tea and soft drinks and escorted to the washrooms and generally made to feel at home. 

     At the appointed hour, the door at the far end of the Room opened and the Diary Secretary entered to announce the Duke. He was ramrod straight and very smart as we have always seen him. EMB and the Duke exchanged some pleasantries and then EMB presented him her latest book ‘The Oceanic Circle’. He too gave her his recent writings as Founder President of WWF. Then before making their customary speeches and ‘Tea’, EMB introduced each one of us to the Duke. After she told him our names, he had two pretty much standard questions: Are you her family, friend or co-worker and what do you do for a living. I was halfway along the line-up, excited and nervous but at least, I wasn’t the first. 

     So, he comes to me, we shake hands and he asks: Are you EMB’s family or friend or co-worker? I said, a bit of all three, Your Royal Highness. What do you do for a living? I said, I lecture in Marine Policy, Sir. So, is that natural sciences or social sciences or law or management? I said, it’s a bit of everything, Sir. Then he looked at EMB and looked at his equerry and up and down and said, ‘let me think of a scientific joke!’ I could see the equerry’s face going red. At this point, the Duke was holding my hand in both his hands and he exclaimed, I’ve got one! ‘How do you sex chromosomes?’ I hadn’t a clue so I said, rather sheepishly, how do you sex chromosomes, Sir, and he goes, ‘Just pull down their genes!’

  • As Penny Egan writes above, he ‘provided a brand of leadership which more than matched the record of Prince Albert'. In the 1950s when Prince Philip's Presidency started, the term ‘environment’ was little used or understood. Educationalists meant by it that which was not innate in child development. ‘Conservation’ was used but was associated with aspects of the natural and cultural worlds, not a holistic concept: exemplified by the scope of bodies such as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (founded 1946), Keep Britain Tidy (1954), the National Society for Clean Air (1957), and the Victorian Society (1958). At a Wildlife Exhibition in 1953, the Prince asked the various bodies mounting stands if they talked to each other. They did not. Quite probably, this gave Prince Philip a mission. He inspired a series of three Countryside in 1970 conferences, held in 1963, 1965 and 1970, that brought bodies together for the first time, generated a sense of shared purpose and began to conceive an environmental movement. The RSA was closely involved in the first and hosted and co-organised the second and third conferences. By the 1990s, the world was catching up and many more holistic bodies had come into being such as Friends of the Earth (1968), the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1970), the International Institute of Environment and Development (1973) and the Green Alliance (1979). Thus, the path-finding RSA had largely fulfilled the mission implicitly set by its President thirty years earlier. Prince Philip has a place in RSA history as the longest-serving President: his 59 years are well ahead of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) (1863-1901) and Lord Romney (1761-1793). [A fuller version of this tribute was published in April by The William Shipley Group for RSA History]

  • In the 25 years that we served (Christopher Lucas 1977-94; Penny Egan 1998 -06) as the RSA's Executive Director we witnessed first-hand the extraordinary range and influence His Royal Highness exerted on the Society's work. In our opinion, Prince Philip, President for 59 years (1952-2011) provided a brand of leadership which more than matched the record of Prince Albert, also our President (1843-1861), who famously launched the concept of the Great Exhibition (1851) at the Society, ambitiously transforming it from a national celebration of progress to an international one. Prince Philip's own and most singular contribution came from his pioneering work in steadily pushing the environment up the political and business agendas, from practically nowhere to where it is today, both nationally and globally. The Society published a booklet in 1993 "The RSA and the environment: 30 years (1963 -93) of identifying the dilemmas, led by The Duke of Edinburgh" which not only provides a detailed record of his extraordinary commitment but also reveals, from his many addresses to countless conferences, both his vast personal knowledge of the subject and his uniquely vigorous grasp of the issues. It was a commitment he sustained throughout his life. Here is an extract from HRH’s own introduction to that booklet, written 27 years ago: “In the early days, the need for active conservation was only appreciated by dedicated naturalists and by academics in zoology and botany. Their immediate concern was that so many species of wild animals and plants had become extinct, or were seriously threatened with extinction. Even then it was only too apparent that the threat to the natural world as a whole was coming from human activities. The population was exploding, industry was expanding and the demand for the natural resources of the forests and the oceans was fuelling unprecedented levels of ruthless exploitation. Then, almost without being noticed, a new factor entered the equation. In order to attract public sympathy and support, people started using the argument that the conservation of nature was not simply to prevent extinction, but it was also for the benefit of mankind. The line was that if all these dreadful things were threatening the plants and animals, it would not be long before they started to threaten human life as well. I suspect that it was at this point that the ‘green’, or environmental movement, began. The conservation of nature and the conservation of the human environment are closely inter-linked but there is a significant difference of emphasis. The story of the RSA Environment Committee can only be fully understood if this almost philosophical difference between the two aspects of conservation is appreciated. It is the reason why the subjects that the Committee has chosen to pursue appear to veer so drastically across the spectrum of matters that influence life on this planet.” However, quite apart from the environment there was so much else Prince Philip championed through the RSA. His strong interest in design and engineering meant that he always took a great interest in the many projects and ideas generated by RSA Design and the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry. In the 1980s he encouraged the Society to initiate the Management Design Awards, in recognition of design not being a stylistic add-on, but needing to be rooted in the heart of business. In the 1990s he took a strong interest in our collaboration with the Royal College of Art in pioneering inclusive design. This initiative included a conference at the Duke’s behest Interface: User and Machine for designers and industry to highlight the need for change to ensure that users of technology were not marginalised. HRH was a frequent visitor to 8 John Adam Street, chairing his annual lecture and presenting the Society’s prestigious Albert and Benjamin Franklin medals. Along with all the other countless tributes we wish to celebrate the breadth of Prince Philip’s legacy through the RSA. Christopher Lucas Penny Egan

  • Prince Philip invited me to give the President's Lecture in 2001. I had just written "The World for a Shilling", a book about the Great Exhibition of 1851, which the RSA was instrumental in organising. At dinner afterwards, he politely congratulated me on the lecture, adding that he assumed it was all based on the research I'd done for the book. Not quite, I replied. I'd done a bit if extra research to focus more tightly on the role of the RSA. "Typical journalist," he harrumphed. "You write the story first and do the research afterwards!"

  • Farewell to HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the longest-serving royal consort in British history, a loyal and devoted husband, counsel and companion to HM the Queen for more than 70 years, a wonderful example of life-long public service and a symbol of continuity in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth through the decades. I had the honour and the pleasure to meet him at an RSA event many years ago at Buckingham Palace and his wit and sense of humour were ever present when he recounted the story of his birth, as a member of the Greek Royal Family, on the island of Corfu. May he rest in peace and may his legacy live on. Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη. Memory Eternal.

    • HRH The Prince Philip devoted his life to public service & his exemplary global leadership helped make our world a better place for this & future generations. My personal introduction to HRH began when I received The Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award in the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace in November 1966.It led to a mentor relationship with Lord John Hunt who with HRH’s blessing encouraged me to lead a voluntary effort to establish the equivalent of the UK Award program in the United States, after I emigrated to the US in 1971. It took 8 years but with the active support of HRH,, my mentor W. Clement Stone Founding Chairman ,AON Corporation & other US private, public & voluntary sector leaders, President Carter on November 16 1979 signed The Congressional Award Act ( Public Law # 96-114) into law following strong bi- partisan support from the US Congress. It was an unexpected honor for me to subsequently be asked by the Joint Congressional Leadership to develop a National CA Board of Directors & serve as the Founding Executive Director of The Congressional Award & develop the program throughout the United States. HRH made multiple visits to Washington DC in support of The Congressional Award & it was my honor to to represent the US at the inaugural & subsequent meetings of The International Award Council during 1981/1985 As someone from a mixed Protestant & Catholic family from Londonderry & Donegal & the first member of a Catholic Boys Club in N. Ireland to earn the Bronze, Silver & Gold Awards; I shared with HRH in the Diplomatic Rooms of the US Department of State in 1983 at a CA Gala some information that we felt would be welcomed as good news.ie. The Joint Congressional Leadership & CA Board leaders & I had been working quietly with government & business leaders in the Republic of Ireland to establish a President’s Award for Youth ; patterned after The Congressional Award. HRH in his own inimitable manner immediately & indiscreetly responded with the perfect quelch ; “ Sounds to me like a case of the blind, leading the blind!” Of course on his return to the UK HRH then set wheels in motion with his network & leaders of the Award program in NI & the UK - D of E international HQ; And Ireland subsequently became a member of the International Award Council. We exchanged many letters over the years & my last conversation with him was at a dedication ceremony at The Victory Services Club - London of which he was The Patron & I am honored to be a member. He was in sparkling form & lifted the spirits of everyone fortunate to be in his presence. We have a saying in Ireland about exceptional people that is selectively used as one strives to sum up an individual who exemplifies a life well lived in the service of others. It is “Take a good long look at that person for we may never see their likes again.” HRH - The Prince Philip was such a man & I join millions of people throughout the world who share condolences with Her Majesty , The Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Family & all within their global circle on the death His Royal Highness , The Prince Philip.